As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the Gospel for Sunday, May 29, 2022. The content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here:Franciscan Gospel Reflection May 29 2022 Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photos: Adriaen van Overbeke, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic Church (Mount Vernon, Ohio) – stained glass, Christ at the Ascension (detail).JPG
A Note: In most dioceses in the United States, the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated on the 7th Sunday after Easter. Therefore, the focus here is the gospel text of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.
Jesus said to the disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.
Luke presents two accounts of the Ascension. One is in the first verses of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:1-11) and is the first reading for today. Luke’s second description of the Ascension is the gospel text for today. In the Acts account, the Ascension looks forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit, the missionary activity of the early Church to the ends of the earth, and the future establishment of the fullness of the reign of God.
The gospel account focuses on the Ascension as the culmination of Jesus’ ministry, and his departure. Jesus gives one last very short instruction to the disciples before he is taken up into heaven. He tells them that the core of his teaching and the events of his death and resurrection have all been predicted in the earlier writings of their tradition. By making only a general reference to the events of Jesus’ ministry and their tradition, Luke casts all of Jesus’ life and ministry in the light of the religious tradition of the people of Israel.
Another way that Luke expresses the connection between His ministry and their tradition is by emphasizing the importance of the holy city, Jerusalem, and the small village of Bethany. Bethany is on the Mount of Olives. After Jesus’ ascension from there, the disciples return to Jerusalem and to the temple to praise God. While these two places are associated with Jesus’ suffering and death, they now take on new meaning and are linked to Jesus’ ultimate glory. Jerusalem and the temple were the center of Jewish faith. The disciples entered the city not to hide behind locked doors, but to go into the temple praising God. The importance of Jerusalem is a constant theme throughout these verses.
Noticeably absent from the description of the ascension is any sign of cosmic reaction, angelic presence, or divine recognition of Jesus’ final return. The cosmic expression of what has happened is not to be found in heaven, but in God working in and among the disciples as they take the message of Jesus to all the nations. Next Sunday, the feast of Pentecost, the cosmic signs of God’s presence will begin to be manifested in the disciples carrying on the mission they have received. For now, the disciples and the church are in a kind of in-between time, between the Resurrection and Jesus’ return with the fullness of God’s reign. But what is presented here is that the disciples experience the departure of Jesus through a lens of faith. They return from the Ascension filled with a great joy. They are continuously present in the temple praising God. The cosmic impact of what God is doing, which was part of other events of the gospels, is now present inwardly in the lives of the disciples.
- Can you describe your initial response to news of the passing of a person of significance to you?
- After some appropriate period, how has that person impacted how you live?
- Have you ever been aware in some way that you needed to move on from where you were or what you were doing?
- What kind of thoughts and feelings might the early disciples have had as they heard Jesus tell them that what had taken place with his death and rising, and that they were now to be the witnesses to the ends of earth, was all found in their sacred writings?
- How would you respond if you had been among them?
- The last line of the gospel says, “They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.” What strikes you about this description of the disciples?
- Can you take some time now to talk with God honestly about your experience of loss in your own life, about the Ascension of Jesus and its meaning for you, or about your own feelings about Jesus’ presence or absence in your own life?